Food costs are often a barrier to eating well at home, so here are some cheap dinner recipe ideas that are perfect if you find yourself short on cash. It’s not hard to eat well on a budget, if you get the right ingredients!
Many people are struggling with grocery bills right now, but this is not a new problem. Trying to eat well on a budget can feel challenging, so I hope this list helps give you some fresh ideas.
Here, you’ll find recipes that are under $2.50 a serving (less than $10 for a recipe that serves four). These are complete and balanced dinner recipes – those that include protein, and/or healthy carbs and veggies. So often, I find recommendations for inexpensive recipes that don’t include protein – for example, only noodles with a light sauce – or are only one part of a meal like chicken thighs, not including a side. These ideas are full dinner ideas, with all the nutrition you need to have you feeling full and satisfied!
All of these recipes use inexpensive ingredients, though external links may not account for current prices (June 2022 at time of posting). Costs for these are calculated using my best estimate based on typical grocery store prices, or calculated by the website from which they are shared.
Some prices may vary depending on your location, where you shop, the quality of products you purchase, or if produce is in season and/or grown locally. Here’s a great resource from Beth over at Budget Bytes on how to calculate a recipe cost based on your own grocery store prices! (You’ll also find a few of her reader favorite recipes included in this list!)
Sheet Pan Sausage and Sweet Potatoes costs about $10 to make total ($2.50 per serving). I love that this meal uses only one sheet pan (fewer dishes!) and only a few ingredients. Just grab a pound of smoked sausage (around $5), a couple sweet potatoes (around $2 each) and an onion, some garlic cloves, oil, and spices (about $1). Use white potatoes if you like, which are cheaper, and any spices you already have in your pantry. Leftovers are delicious any time of day – I like to serve with scrambled eggs for leftover breakfast.
Spicy Quinoa and Black Beans is made in one pot in about 30 minutes. Coming in at around $8-9 for the whole batch ($2.00-2.25 per serving), this recipe is packed with nutrition from relatively inexpensive ingredients. Black beans run about $1/can, even cheaper if you cook them from dried. Sub any color bell pepper you want if the red is too pricey, and feel free to omit the cilantro. You can also use rice instead of quinoa which is cheaper and often more accessible.
Spanakopita pasta costs about $8-10 to make a batch ($2.00-2.50 per serving). I love this as a full dinner because it has protein from both the feta cheese AND eggs – the eggs are incorporated into the sauce, similar to a carbonara. It’s packed with healthy spinach. Buy block feta and crumble it yourself to save money (it tastes better freshly crumbled, too!). You can use any kind of pasta you want, so buy what’s on sale, or use a whole wheat or chickpea pasta for an extra boost of nutrition. Don’t skip the fresh lemon though – it really brings it all together. Want more protein? Fry some eggs and serve them on top!
Shepherd’s pie is something I made over and over when I was a student, and again as a teacher, when I was very strapped for cash. This recipe costs about $14 to make total, but with 8 servings, it’s about $1.75 per serving. You can easily make half a recipe, or, my favorite- assemble two in smaller casserole dishes while you are cooking and pop one in the freezer for later. Leftovers are great for packing in lunches. This is one of those hearty meals that will leave you feeling full! Save money by buying ground beef in the larger bulk packages, as well as potatoes.
Black Beans and Rice is so easy to whip up in only 10 minutes. At only about $6 ($1.50 per serving), this easy, healthy, plant-based recipe is perfect. It also uses mostly pantry ingredients so it’s great when you don’t have time to go to the store for fresh things. All you need are a couple cans of black beans, onion, and spices. While the recipe calls for fresh cilantro and lime, which are delicious in it, you can skip them and be fine. I recommend serving with any veggie you have, or you can add bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, or other veggies to the bean mixture, for added nutrition.
If you opt for bulk chicken thighs and use frozen green beans and canned tomatoes, you’ll save some money making this easy slow cooker Greek green beans and chicken thighs. At around $10 ($2.50/serving), this is packed with flavor and everything cooks at once in the slow cooker, so you can set it and forget it while you’re out and about! Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs are one of the cheapest cuts of chicken. This recipe calls for four thighs, but if you want to add 8 to the pot to make more servings, that will work well.
At $1.80 per serving, this hearty Cajun Sausage and Rice skillet is a one-pot recipe akin to Jambalaya (but easier and simpler to make!). As a bonus, the leftovers taste amazing. (From Budget Bytes)
At only around $8 for four servings ($2 per serving), Black Bean Huevos Rancheros is packed with satisfying protein and tons of flavor! This recipe calls for chorizo, but you can easily omit it to save money or make it vegetarian. You’ll need canned black beans, 8 eggs, and some frozen corn as the main ingredients here. Again, skip the cilantro if you want. Since the eggs are the star of the show here, if you can, I recommend pasture-raised or organic, which will taste better, but any eggs will do. Serve with tortilla chips to make this meal go further.
This satisfying vegetarian meal costs about $8-10 to make, or $2.00-2.50 per serving. This recipe roasts potatoes in an oven safe skillet, such as cast iron. Then, spinach is added along with a jar of marinara sauce, eggs cracked directly in, and covered in cheese. It’s baked again until the eggs are cooked and cheese is melted. I used to make this without the cheese when I was doing the Whole30. You can omit the fresh rosemary or use another spice or herb mixture of your choice. The potatoes take a while to cook but are fuss-free, so just be sure to plan ahead. The potatoes add a lot of substance and absorb all the delicious flavors from everything!
I’m a big fan of a quiche any time of day, including dinner. Even better if you don’t have to fuss with a crust! This crustless quiche is packed with healthy broccoli, eggs, and cheese. You can add bacon or ham if you want. Bisquick, or a mix of flour and baking powder, is mixed right in the batter to result in a fluffy quiche. At only around $8 to make and 8 servings, it’s only about $1 per serving! And the leftovers are perfect for breakfast or lunch.
I make this recipe almost weekly for my family. This easy one pot pasta recipe costs only about $7 for four servings ($1.75 per serving). You can use ground beef, lamb, or turkey, so you can get whatever is on sale. While this recipe uses fresh or dried mint, if you don’t have that, I’ve made it with dried oregano before with great results. It’s an interesting combination of spices including cinnamon that you’ll love! You’ll also need a can of tomato paste and some orzo for the other main ingredients.
This dutch oven chicken breast recipe is juicy, simple, and creamy, too! It’s a one pot dinner that can be made for less than $2 per serving! (From The Oregon Dietician)
This protein-packed stew is so healthy, with chicken, black beans, and healthy sweet potatoes. It’s got a great flavor from smoked paprika and tomatoes. You can easily omit the chicken and still have a healthy balanced vegetarian meal. It calls for rotisserie or already cooked chicken – to save money, you can cook your own chicken, though rotisserie chickens are often pretty inexpensive and the work’s already done. This comes in at around $12/batch for six servings ($2 per serving).
At $1.61/serving ($6.45 for the whole recipe), Tuscan White Bean Pasta is a great vegetarian recipe with healthy protein from the beans. It comes together in 30 minutes. Swap out white pasta for whole wheat or chickpea pasta for an extra boost of nutrition! You could also double up the amount of beans to make it extra hearty. (From Budget Bytes)
I love a good meatball when I’m looking for a cheap meal. These chicken parmesan meatballs come in at less than $2/serving, including the pasta and sauce. You can form meatballs in advance to save some time at dinner, or freeze half for later if you’re cooking for one or two! (From Budget Bytes)
This Instant Pot chicken pasta is a dump and go recipe that will for sure enter your weekly dinner rotation. It’s easy, delicious, and it’s ready in just 25 minutes. It costs just $1 per serving. (From Simple Living Recipes)
At only $5 for the whole recipe (just over $1 per serving), this one pot cheeseburger pasta stretches only a half a pound of ground beef. If you like hamburger helper, you’ll love this healthier homemade option! (From Budget Bytes)
Tuna melts are those things I make when I am scrambling for dinner and don’t feel like cooking. Just whip up a quick tuna salad, top some halved english muffins with it, add a slice of cheese, and bake until warm and melty! Canned tuna is cheap and healthy, and for a boost of nutrition you can use whole wheat or sprouted grain English Muffins. These come in at around $2/serving. I like to serve them with whatever fruit or veggies I have lying around.
Because you use dried beans for this recipe, it’s so much cheaper than using canned beans and your slow cooker does all the work for you! I do recommend soaking the beans before cooking this, so you’ll need to plan ahead a bit, but you only need a few minutes of prep. Come home to a delicious meal all ready to go. At around $10 per batch that serves 8 ($1.25/serving), you can easily freeze half for an easy dinner some other time. Stovetop and Instant Pot instructions also included.
Greek Lentil Soup is so healthy and nutritious and packed with flavor. If you have fresh herbs growing, it’s a great excuse to use a bunch of them, but you can also use dried. A bag of lentils only costs a couple bucks and this batch serves 8-10. Feel free to omit the red wine, use water instead of stock, and decrease the olive oil to save some money. This recipe costs about $8 total ($1 per serving). I always stick half the batch in my freezer for another meal later.